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tv   Washington Week  PBS  December 30, 2011 8:00pm-8:30pm PST

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>> voting is actually about to begin in iowa. what will tuesday tell us about who's got next in the republican primary race? what will it mean for policy? and why president obama is paying attention. tonight on "washington week." the final stretch. can mitt romney win? >> i hope you understand that this is not just an election to replace a president. this is an election about the soul of america. gwen: will ron paul stage an upset? >> the important thing for me is a lot of people are waking up. gwen: is rick santorum surging? >> you've got the moderate primary, which mitt romney are scrumming for and three folks running as strong conservatives. gwen: is newt gingrich fading? >> you don't have to have a nasty, negative, mud-slinging,
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consultant-driven campaign? i refuse to engage in that kind of politics. gwen: is time running out for michele bachmann and rick perry? the polls tell the tale but finally so will the voters. we preview the iowa caucuses with karen ue multiof "the washington post," jeff zeleny of "the new york times," susan davis of "usa today" and christina bellantoni of cg roll call. >> award-winning reporting and analysis, covering history as it happens frfment our nation's capital, this is "washington week" with gwen ifill. produced in association with "national journal." corporate funding for "washington week" is provided by -- >> we know why we're here. to connect our forces to what they need when they need it. >> to help troops see danger before it sees them.
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>> to answer the call of the brave and bring them safely home. >> around the globe, the people of boeing are working together to support and protect all who serve. >> that's why we're here. >> additional funding for "washington week" is provided by prudential financial, the annenberg foundation, the corporation for public broadcasting and by contributions to your pbs station from viewers like you. thank you. once again from washington, moderator gwen ifill. gwen: good evening. it all comes down to the final days, if not minutes, and why should the iowa caucuses be different than anything else we've covered this year? iowa has taken us from the heat of august, when michele bachmann was the breakout candidate, to the breezes of autumn when rick perry briefly ruled the day. through herman cain and then
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newt gingrich, then ron paul, now rick santorum. and steady as she goes, mitt romney has never quite managed to lose his front-runner's grip. hundreds of millions of dollars of political advertising are crowding iowa's airwaves in the time days. >> it's time for this pessimistic president to step aside and let american optimism that built this greatest nation on earth build a greater future for our children. >> serial hypocrites and flip-floppers can't clean up the mess. one man stands alone, consistant, incorruptable, guided by faith and principle, ron paul, the one we've been looking for. >> working together we can can rebuild the america we love and get people working again. i'm newt gingrich, and i approve this message. >> which republican running for president voted for the bridge to nowhere earmark? yes, susie from des moines? >> rick santorum? >> correct!
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gwen: the polls this week have shown a new reality, romney out in front, followed closely by ron paul, with rick santorum surging and newt gingrich fading. jeff zeleny and karen tumulty join us from iowa tonight. guys, what's the single most compelling thing you have seen out there on the campaign trail, starting with you, karen? >> well, in a republican primary season that has sometimes felt like speed dating, i think one of the most surreal moments came at a ron paul rally the other night when all of a sudden to everyone's surprise on stage walks michele bachmann state co-chairman, one of her high profile supporters, announces he's switching teams and going to ron paul. the ron paul/michele bachmann overlap vote is something i would not believe could have existed. gwen: how about you, jeff? >> i think that kind of puts the icing on what's been a very volatile campaign season. but i think at the end of the
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day here, probably what's most surprising is the fact that mitt romney is spending new year's eve in iowa. he's waking up new year's day in iowa and he's staying the morning after the iowa caucuses in iowa. this is the look, the feel, the confidence of someone who thinks that the nomination is within his grasp. he's been all in, in iowa internally for a long time but they've been managing their expectations very well. they've been building their campaign organization sort of under the radar. but now that everything remains so fractured at the end of the day, there's so much support at least they believe sort of divided up among all of their rivals, he is all in here and that's something that we wouldn't have expected only a few weeks ago. gwen: so karen and sue and christina are going to pitch in here for a minute. i'm curious about what jeff just said, about expectations and ideas and homestretch
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strategies. what exactly are these candidates starting with mitt romney, pick up from where he left off and let's also go on to someone like ron paul, who can either win or come in second, what are the homestretch strategies, i guess? >> i think the thing that as jeff suggested that is really working right now in mitt romney's favor is the fragmentation of the electorate. he is now leading the field polling at around 25% in a cnn poll this week. well, that is no higher than what he won -- that he lost with four years ago. he came in a distance second with 25%. that may be enough this time to win the caucuses for him because the rest -- there are so many other directions that voters can go in this time. if he does win, it may well be a victory where three quarters of iowa voters are voting for somebody else. gwen: so those evangelical voters mike huckabee won last time, jeff, they're split many different directions this time?
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>> at least that's what it looks like right now. but in the final days of this race here, former pennsylvania senator rick santorum is trying to convince enough of them to come over to his side here, to increase their argument, increase the strength of the evangelical vote going out of iowa. i think one thing that rick santorum has sort of going in his favor is that as a campaign, as a candidate, you always sort of want to get hot and surge at the end and that's sort of what he's doing. we're not talking, we're not seeing as much about newt gingrich, who is in fact sort of doing the opposite, at least it seems. it seems that he's sliding sort of back at the end of the campaign here. so i think rick santorum is someone to keep an eye on here because for all of the energy and enthusiasm and intensity about wanting to beat the president and a lot of republicans think mitt romney has their best chance, there's
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still a lot of people out there who don't want to have him be that person. they want to at least have someone else in the race here. so rick santorum is someone to keep an eye on. gwen: christina? >> jeff, doesn't santorum remind you of the position mike huckabee was in 2008 where everybody was wondering if he won in iowa, he doesn't have any money, what is he going to do next? if santorum were to suddenly come in first or second somehow, could he even go anywhere from there? >> that's a really good question. rick santorum has spent a ton of time in iowa. the place he's been to most after that is south carolina. he has been campaigning there some. he doesn't have much money. but there is some thinking inside their campaign that he would get at least some grass roots support. i think santorum surge has to be put into some perspective here. he's surging from the very bottom here like 3%, 5%, up a
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little bit so even some of his supporters don't necessarily think he's going to win. but if he would beat rick perry, which is an open question. we don't know if that's going to happen, but if he would, perhaps some people would coalesce around him and he would go on to be an alternative to romney in south carolina. but he's in no way prepared to go the distance in this race, even like ron paul is or mitt romney is. >> although interesting even with the limited resources that he has, he did in fact make an ad buy in new hampshire, which is sort of surprising because on the face of it, it does not look like a state that would be particularly good for rick santorum, but he points out he's been to that state more often than any other candidate except for john huntsman. sue? >> for how many of the candidates is iowa make or break for, in the sense if they don't place in the top tier, this is probably the end of the road for them? >> i think the most obvious example of that is michele bachmann, who won the iowa straw
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poll in august, was really the sweetheart of the iowa republican party at that point. people were standing in line for hours to get into her tent. at the straw poll. and fough she's making this, just finished this sprint across 99 counties, trying to sort of revive a campaign that is now running in some polls at the very back. gwen: jeff, i read somewhere today that newt gingrich, the negative advertising directed at newt gingrich has been half of the advertising all on the air, political advertising on the air in iowa the last couple of weeks. that certainly has to explain some of his incredible collapse. >> it does, gwen, without question. he had really thrived by the strength of his debate performances. well, a couple things happened. one, the debates ended so he's had the last couple of weeks to sort of fen for himself. any time you hear a candidate complaining about the negative advertising but not responding
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in kind in the same medium, you know they're in trouble. he's still getting decent crowds but newt gingrich has always gotten good crowds when he's bothered to actually be campaigning. but if you talk to his strategists, his supporters, they will say quite honestly this information campaign against him really from all sides, it's not just the romney super pack. it's also ron paul probably more than anyone else, he has run just a barrage of negative ads against speaker gingrich. and the gingrich campaign does not have the organization to respond and it appears they don't have the money to respond. they've been very slow in their ads on their own. so if he's going to sort of rise again here, he's going to-to-do it all on the brand of his name and his own work. there's not much backup here for him. gwen: sue? >> talk a little bit about going into new hampshire. mitt romney, it seems pretty curious he's now leading in
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iowa. if he's capable of winning iowa, which in 2008 seemed almost impossible, he's heading into new hampshire really strong. on the ground there, is there any sense of inevitability by mitt romney as the nominee? >> you know, more and more people i talk to including voters who do not like mitt romney, it's like the -- you see them going through the five stages of grief. and they're out of anger and denial and they're moving towards acceptance. gwen: are you hearing the same things, jeff? >> i think that's true also. but one thing that is uniting all of these republicans, or at least in the long term, is the idea, boy, they sure want to make president obama a one-term president. they aren't in love with mitt romney. karen is absolutely right about that. even at romney's own rallies, i went around the room on thursday in mason city. he had a nice crowd. but it's really hard to find someone, someone who may have a
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romney sticker or what thenot, but hard to find someone who's so passionate or committed for him. but it's ok, a is a vote. even if someone is not entirely into him. i think there's a growing sense that he's the strongest nominee of the republican party to accomplish their ultimate goal. gwen: christina? >> do we think it might be a little different this year as opposed to 2008 that some of these candidates may not actually drop out if they don't come in the top three in iowa? for example, bachmann says she's going to go do that debate in new hampshire and then she's going to go straight to south carolina to sort of make her evangelical pitch there. she could drop out after that. unless santorum, he said if he finished last he would drop out. do you think anybody will drop out tuesday night? >> i think it will be -- michelle bachmann if she does really badly is going to be sort of hard pressed to mick a case even going to south carolina. but you look at someone like
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rick perry, he's still setting apparently on millions of dollars which he could use to go forward. and that money is there to be spent. it's just sort of how long he actually has an appetite for this race. >> i think one of the things we saw propel some of these candidates in the race up until this point was debates. once the debates get going again, there won't be as many but that could possibly keep people in the race longer than previous years, christina. i think that's a real possibility. gwen: ron paul, we have to ask you about ron paul. there's some possibility he could even best mitt romney on tuesday night. how strong is he now in iowa? then how much can he use that as leverage to get another leg up in new hampshire? >> you know, i've been surprised at some of the people i have run into at ron paul's events. four years ago they were sort of this kind of hard core libertarian crowd. but this year i have run into evangelicals and homeschoolers. i think his appeal this year is
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somewhat broader than it has been and also as ken sorenson, michele bachmann's recently departed campaign chairman as he was joining ron paul forces, he said these people who support ron paul, it doesn't matter if there's five feet of snow on the ground caucus night, which thankfully it does not look like there will be, these people are going to show up. gwen: intensity, jeff? >> i think there is intensity, no question. the only question for ron paul is what is his ceiling of support? you hear every other candidate, really every single candidate from mitt romney to newt gingrich to rick perry to michele bachmann going after ron paul on his foreign policy views. they say he has dangerous views. rick santorum perhaps crystallizes this argument as good as anything. he said, the things you like most about ron paul, the slashing the -- slashing the
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size of government, cutting the deficit, he won't be able to do because he can't pass a bill in congress, according to rick santorum. the things that you maybe sort of worried about, his foreign policy views, he will be able to do. he's commander in chief. so a lot of incoming arguments are trying to cut down ron paul. karen is right that he has a lot of committed supporters. but i think they're probably capped a little bit. and a lot of mainstream republicans may be having second thoughts in the final days. turnout is a big question. if he gets a lot of his own supporters, it could change the question. gwen: it's so nice to actually have voting on the horizon. i know you will be out there all weekend on the trail. i will let you get right to it. thank you so much for joining us. >> thank you. happy new year. gwen: happy new year to you too. there's more than presidential politics afoot this year. congress is in upheaval too. consider these numbers compiled by partners at "national journal." six members of the house and senate resigned, four under an
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ethical cloud but ten house members and nine senators are retiring outright. another 16 members are quitting to run for other offices. don't kid yourself when you hear them talk about hating washington. all but three of those are running for the u.s. senate or, of course, for president. how much will the trickledown from the president's race then affect the makeup of congress. sue? >> that's a great question. i don't think we could know for sure until we know who the republican nominee is. that will definitely cloud, the national debate will affect state by state. particularly because in a lot of the states where there will be competitive statewide races for the senate, missouri, ohio, pennsylvania. these are also states where the presidential race will come into play. gwen: right. >> i think barack obama for a lot of senators running for re-election, i just said missouri, and i will use it as a good exam exam. this is a democratically held state who is making a very strong point to run independent of the president, run independent of the democratic party because it is a state that has trended republican. it will be a tough re-election.
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she's going to, as many democrats are going to need to do in tough states, is distinguish themselves separate from barack obama. there is no competitive state right now where the president's poll numbers are anything that would delight an incumbent to run with him. i would not be surprised to see a lot of campaign events where the president is campaigning in battleground states where the senator or candidates up for re-election happen to be busy that day. that's a trend we saw a little in 2012 and i think we will see again in 2012. gwen: it's interesting, you talked about distancing yourself from the president. the best way to do that is quit. this week we saw senator ben nelson, the democrat from nebraska, decide he want going to run for re-election, which caused great dismay among some democrats. was that one of the most consequential retirements of the year? >> i think it gives the republicans a much better chance of taking the seats they need to win control of the senate in 2013 when they come back into congress. but this is an area that helps
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democrats a little bit because they don't have to spend money there. they're saying they think the seat will be competitive in nebraska. but it will not be competitive in nebraska. they don't even have a candidate yet. this allows democrats to focus efforts on massachusetts and nevada, which are two republican held seats that the democrats feel pretty confident they can flip if it's a good year for barack obama. there's one exception with the obama popularity, he's still doing ok in virginia, which everybody is a little surprised by because it's a state that's clearly battleground. he won it, first democrat to win it since 1964. and tim cane has not spent a lot of time with barack obama. he's running for senate on the democratic ticket for open seat there. that will be interesting. ohio, shar sherrod brown, is actually running ahead of barack obama right now. gwen: it's interesting the he people who decided to retire and leave congress are more likely to be liberals who are discouraged or conservatives discouraged. you think about lynn woolsey in california, barney frank in massachusetts, staunch liberals
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throwing up their hands and decided to quit. is there any significance to that? >> i think there may be some to that. i also think to a certain extent their veteran lawmakers. if you look at members like barney frank, who had their marquee legislative achievement in the dodd-frank overhaul regulatory, they reached sort of the end of their legislative career and they know that. i'm not sure barney frank would have any problems getting re-elected. gwen: he ran a tighter-than-expected race last time. >> if he won in 2010, hard to see how 2012 would be a harder year for democrats than 2010 was. >> and redistricting was so important for frank. they loss a seat in massachusetts and had to reconfigure the seats. gwen: are there other place where's they have drawn the lines differently and made it a bigger challenge to get reee legislated yesterday? >> yes, in fact a freshman from 'announced he would retire and that's in part because he was drawn in one another member in the ohio districting process. he's a freshman.
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surprising to see somebody leave unless they're under an ethical investigation or something. gwen: moderate word, ben nelson who has a reputation of being a blue dog democrat, are moderates more under fire than they have ever been and do they have less reason to say because they have less say in a polarized congress? >> it didn't faze a former congressman who lost in 2010. he was seen as a typical moderator. he's talked about this. the problem when you're a moderate lawmaker, you don't actually get to spend much time electing. you tend to represent states and districts that are so competitive you're constantly under fire both from often your base of your own party and from the opposing party. so the amount of time it spends fund-raising, campaigning, can be exhausting. ben nelson, he probably would have faced a tough road to re-election but he certainly had taken the steps. spent a million dollars trying to improve his image. running polling. he hired staff. running the kind of campaign he would have to run, sometimes
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legislators don't have the appetite for it. >> or the energy. and a lot of time get up in years and don't want to go through it all again. and nelson is a good example, tea party took credit for him retiring and progressive democrats took credit for him retiring. and that's a good example how there are not a of moderates. they don't have a lot of friends anymore. gwen: the evangelicals are supposed to have a great impact because of what happened with mike huckabee four years ago. iowans say that's not the case. now this is our first post-2010 midterm test whether the tea party really can get people elected or keep people from running. >> i think there's going to be some unintended consequences of the tea party. on the president's level, i think it's interesting because we are currently exist in world where it seems like mitt romney could have the nomination, which i would say opposite of a tea party candidate. but in part what's pro el pelling him -- propelling him there is the vision among the base in which the tea party is a part of.
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on the congressional level, the tea party wave that came in, in 2010, i think we're creating a climate that it's very possible there could be backlash. gwen: certainly after the payroll tax cut debacle a couple weeks ago. >> and pugh put out instant polling, who do you blame for this? and margins suggest that republican leaderser more to blame than democratic leaders. they see the republican party more gridlock than the democratic party. i think that's being linked to the tea party element within congress which has not been willing to compromise on some of these big issues. >> even with the presidential race, you have not seen the tea party coalesce behind a candidate. first maybe bachmann. they didn't emdorse anybody. multiple tea parties, not one cohesive unit. gwen: she said she started the tea party caucus in congress and one time ran on that. >> but she hasn't been able to benefit from ads or spending or active grass roots campaigning. they first seemed like they would maybe like gingrich for a little while.
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ron paul calls himself the original tea partier. so you have not seen any cohesion and there have not been any tea party rallies in almost a year. gwen: give us a sense of what you are watching for as far as toss-ups in some of these races. i think about scott brown in massachusetts, who seems to be tacking a little to the left to hold his own against elizabeth warren. anything else you're watch something >> i have to say the senate obviously is up for grabs. just by the math. democrats control the senate with 53 seats, 47 republican seats. the most important number is nine, that's the number of seats that are considered competitive. seven of which are held by democrats, just two by republicans. just by the math democrats face an uphill battle. i would say the payroll tax fight that we had, first time where i saw it, the house could actually be in play. if this trend continues through 2012 with this kind of gridlock and the sort of brinksmanship politics, i think the house could be called into question. gwen: sue davis, thank you very much. we want to welcome christina
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bellantoni who on monday become newshour's political editor. welcome to the fray in public television, christina. >> thank you very much. gwen: thank you and welcome. thank you, everybody. we're done here but the conversation will continue online, where you can keep up with all of the best political journalism at just click on "washington week" and pbs newshour. we will be in new hampshire to tell you the story on the ground in a special granite state primary preview. see you from there next week on "washington week." and happy new year, everyone. good night. gwen: every thursday get a preview of our topics and panel with our "washington week" e-mail alert, available at washingtonweek online at >> funding for "washington week" is provided by --
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